Photo: Victoria Patneaude
It’s almost 9 PM on a Friday night when I find myself on a black leather couch in a backstage dressing room of Atlanta’s historic venue The Tabernacle. Seated on either side of me are Claire Acey, Sam Stewart and Django Stewart, three-fifths of the LA-based indie rock band Nightmare and the Cat. They’re dressed effortlessly cool ‒ at least, there’s the illusion of it being effortless; I’d just witnessed Django spend five minutes trying to decide on whether or not to add a hat to his ensemble ‒ and for a moment, I find myself wondering how I’m supposed to hang with them knowing they very well could be the coolest cats I’d ever met. (Yes, pun intended.) That moment was fleeting, however, as we soon found ourselves talking about Disneyland.
“I have this membership where I pay $16 a month and I can go to Disneyland whenever I want, but I forgot to pay it last month, so they’ve been sending me Mickey Mouse threats!” Django said quite seriously, recounting the tale after stating that he was looking forward to the Florida stop of the Pop Psychology Tour because of the Cuban food and Disney World.
“You know, Disney jail is a real thing,” Claire added matter-of-factly before they launch into a conversation about the theme park. It was then that I got my first true glimpse of Nightmare and the Cat. With an air about them that makes them feel like the quintessential cool band, music that sounds entirely of their own design and personalities that make them feel like they could be your next best friend, the quintet stands alone in their own category.
The history of the indie rock quintet is quite an interesting one. Although brothers Sam (the elder brother) and Django were in different countries ‒ the former in England and the latter in the US ‒ and pursuing different musical paths, by 2010 they’d both seen the end of their previous bands, Blondelle and Django James and the Midnight Squires respectively, and a switch in residences. The shift found Sam working on folk music with girlfriend Claire Acey, whom Django had actually attended high school with, when he reached out to his younger brother to see if he’d like to join them on a new musical exploit, creating the earliest version of Nightmare and the Cat. Soon adding former Django James and the Midnight Squires members Scott Henson and Spike Philips, the band became the current lineup. Four years, two EPs, a major record label deal and a couple of tours later, Nightmare and the Cat are set on making 2014 their best year yet with the release of their debut full-length album and so much more.
Working alongside producer Eric Valentine, whose discography includes Third Eye Blind’s 1997 self-titled release, Good Charlotte’s ‘The Young and the Hopeless’ and ‘The Chronicles of Life and Death,’ and Taking Back Sunday’s ‘Louder Now’ and their 2011 self-titled release, the five musicians took their time recording their upcoming album, ‘Simple.’
“It’s taken us 10 months to record this album, which is why we’re so excited to get it out,” Django says, leaning across his brother to talk about Valentine. “We told him we didn’t want a flash in the pan release, but an album people would remember, and he totally go that.”
“He’s become a friend and mentor of sorts, which is really cool,” Sam added before turning to Claire. “If you had three words to describe Eric, how would you?” After a moment of contemplation, and a quick question as if the three words had to make sense together, she answered with “genius, tactful and barefoot.”
“He’s always barefoot,” she laughed. “Even his studio is called Barefoot Recording.”
With the help of Valentine’s genius, and a push from their label, Capitol Records, the quintet tackled their catchiest single yet, “Undercover.”
“[Capitol Records] said ‘We like what you’re doing, but maybe you could try doing one that’s competitive for radio,’” Django says.
“We were going crazy for about a week listening to Top 40s on Kiss FM, which is the pop station for those who don’t live in LA,” Sam continued. “There wasn’t much we found that we were interested in, but I will admit that I do like some Rihanna.”
Photo: Victoria Patneaude
Upon doing the research, the band wrote many songs, one in particular that caught the eye of the younger Stewart brother.
“We’d written ‘Undercover’ and I’d told Sam that I thought it was the one, and typical big brother was like, ‘Nooooo’ while he pretended to strum away at his guitar,” the singer laughed. “Finally he did it, and Eric called us back and said ‘That’s the one!’ We think it has that catchy vibe but still has the darker lyrics that we like.” He paused for a moment. “You know that saying, ‘Keep it simple, stupid?’ We tried to keep it as simple as possible.”
However, when asked about which song off the future release the trio would use to introduce themselves to new fans, the choice was unanimous. A track called “Traditions” is the first to come to mind for the three band members.
“Everyone else has said ‘Blackbird Smile’ is the one that is really our sound, and so because everyone else has said it so many times, I’d probably say that one,” Claire declares. “But one of my favorites is a song that people didn’t actually want on the album called ‘Traditions.’”
“People didn’t want ‘Traditions’? I like ‘Traditions’!” Django adds.
“‘Traditions’ is one of my favorites, too. It went through a lot of changes, but I like it,” Sam says matter-of-factly.
“It was very difficult to record. At one point Eric had me sitting in a dark room alone with a microphone and said ‘I want you to make notes without releasing air.’” Django responds while mimicking recording the song, leaning forward towards his cupped hands as if they were a microphone. “I wasn’t even sure how that was supposed to be possible.”
Their full-length isn’t the only thing the rest of the year has in store for the LA-based band, as talks soon turned towards their future plans for collaborations with contemporary artist Gary Baseman. From Django’s ideas of collaborating with the circus for a show, to doing speed painting sessions with the artist, to even creating an iPhone app much like Whack-A-Mole for users to unlock content from the band, it seems they have many ideas for their future with the creator of ABC/Disney’s Teacher’s Pet.
“I think he wants to be in the band,” Django laughs.
“He is part of the band,” Sam argues.
“He’s like the 6th member,” Claire agrees.
Also on the roster are a couple of tours and hopefully another television spot following their appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman.
“It was our first TV appearance so we’re working on getting onto a couple of other shows,” says Django proudly. “We’re bugging some people.”
The group certainly has ideas of grandeur for their future, and rightfully so. With a stage presence that would win over even the most stoic music listener, a passion that can only be instilled in the most desirous artists, and a work ethic far beyond their years, Nightmare and the Cat are set upon a path to take over the indie rock scene. With just over a month left of tour dates on the Pop Psychology Tour with Neon Trees, we highly suggest you catch the fivesome while you can, because if our guesses are correct ‒ and their hard work pays off as it should ‒ it’ll soon be quite hard to catch this group. And, to be honest, we can’t think of a band more deserving. Don’t believe us? Just check out the acoustic performance of their track “Goodbye So Many Times” they did just for us below!
Nightmare and the Cat’s debut full-length album, ‘Simple,’ will be available via Capitol Records on July 8.